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The Mystery of the Plaster Plimpton

August 11, 2014 | by

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Hailey Gates holding our plaster Plimpton, a donation from Duncan Sahner and Rodney Cook.

By the largesse of Duncan Sahner and Rodney Cook, The Paris Review has come to possess a handsome bust of our late founding editor, George Plimpton. Specifically, this is a plaster maquette—the sculptural equivalent of a draft or sketch—by George M. Kelly, a sculptor of some renown. When Sahner and Cook heard that Kelly was soon to be evicted from his studio in Astoria, they “put together a team of Monuments Men” to rescue some of his work. This maquette was among their bounty.

And yet so much of the story remains untold. For starters, how did Kelly and Plimpton know each other, and who prevailed on whom to have Plimpton sit as a subject? Furthermore, if our bust is only a preliminary model, then where’s the final version?

The Times offers tantalizing evidence of its existence. Back in 2003, on the occasion of Plimpton’s death, the paper reported that Elaine’s—the restaurant and New York City institution, shuttered in 2011 after more than forty-five years in business—had “a plaster bust of Mr. Plimpton … on a shelf in the back room.” There’s even a photo of him standing beneath it. Elaine Kaufman, the proprietor, told the Times,

A couple of years ago a guy named Kelly did a bust of George in brass … The guy wanted a lot of money, $35,000. I don’t have that kind of—BLEEP!—money. So we ended up with the plaster cast.

That cast remained on display until the restaurant closed. Photographs suggest that it’s not the same cast presently in our office. Ours has a visible seam just behind the Plimp’s ear; the model in Elaine’s is a more polished affair. And if there are already two of these plaster Georges, might not there be others, too?

If you or your loved ones have any clues as to the whereabouts of the bronze Plimpton, or of any further plaster Plimptons, or perhaps even of a marble or Plasticine Plimpton, please let us know. In the meantime, we’re delighted to show off our plaster Plimp, who is, as you can see, eminently photogenic:Read More »

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Biographies in Bronze, by Fredda Brilliant

May 12, 2014 | by

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From the cover of Biographies in Bronze

I am ashamed to admit that, as recently as one week ago, I’d never heard of Fredda Brilliant. My life was the poorer for it. Born in Poland to a Jewish family in the diamond trade, Brilliant was an actress, novelist, screenwriter, and activist who died in 1999. According to the dust jacket of her 1986 memoir-cum-art-book Biographies in Bronze, “She also composes the music and lyrics for songs which she herself sings at concerts, radio, and TV.”

She was best known, however, as a sculptor and personality. As the Independent related in her obituary,

Nehru once said of Fredda Brilliant that when at work she looked like a mad woman—in day-to-day life she would without restraint sing out loud in public—tears would flow as easily as laughter and anger. She promenaded around the Sussex village of Henfield dressed in long black dresses, tasselled shawl about her shoulders and brilliant headscarf encircling her dark hair and small face—in winter she would wear a fur coat to the knees.

The dust jacket intrigued me, yes, when I came across Biographies in Bronze on the dollar cart at Unnameable Books. But it was not until I actually opened the book—specifically, to the picture of Brilliant’s bust of one Tom Mann—that I knew it must be mine.Read More »

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